Defining what Kosovo is presents many difficulties, since there is still no agreement in the world on how to define it. Some consider it to be an independent and sovereign country (specifically, 101 out of the 193 member states of the United Nations do), while others a rebellious province of Serbia, the country from which Kosovo declared its independence in 2008. International recognition is thus mixed, and also European countries do not have a common line on the topic: 5 members of the European Union do not recognize Kosovo, mainly because of internal reasons. In any case, it is undoubtable that Kosovo shows nowadays many characteristics of a sovereign state, with an independent government and complex relations with other countries around the world.
The Balkans, traditionally known as the “powder keg of Europe”, have always been a problematic region for the continent. The causes of this situation are to be searched in the last centuries of the history of the area, which has become a not-so-peaceful melting-pot. The last major conflict in the area was the civil war that erupted after the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Even though the Yugoslav Wars ended in 2001, the situation is not yet completely pacified. One of the most conflictual areas in the area at the moment is Kosovo, formerly the southernmost province of Serbia, inhabited by an Albanian majority and strong Serbian minorities. Serbia and Kosovo, in any case, started the process of normalization of their relations in 2013 with the mediation of the European Union, and have continued on this path since.
The European Union has played a decisive role in the construction of positive relations between the two parts, with Germany attempting to gain a leading role in the process. The 2013 Brussels Agreement, which is the base of the existing Serbia-Kosovo relations is a prove of this. However, many areas of conflict still exist between the two countries, the last one being a dispute over car license plates: the Kosovar government approved a plan to remove all Belgrade-issued plates on its territory, but Kosovo Serbs heavily protested against this decision, backed up by Serbian authorities. The European Union tried to play once again the role of mediator in this crisis, which is only the last of a long series. A meeting in Brussels was held this week, but after two days of talks the chief of European diplomacy Josep Borrell had to announce the failure of the negotiations before the press, accusing both parts of being responsible for any possible escalation that may arise in the next weeks.
In this context, on November 23rd the United States were able to convince Kosovar Prime Minister Kurti to postpone the implementation of the measures regarding license plates for 48 hours. This request by US Ambassador to Kosovo Hovenier arrived after Serbian President Vucic explicitly said that, should Kosovar authorities not stop their plan on Serbian plates, the “breakaway region of Kosovo may turn into ‘hello on earth’”. This postponement marks on the one hand the total failure of any effort made by the European Union, and Germany in particular, and on the other hand how deeply the United States, and NATO, are still involved in the Balkan affairs. Indeed, Kosovo itself was born only thanks to the actions of the US and of the US-led NATO operations in the area in the 1990s. According to some commentors, the US is showing once again its complete power on Europe, not only in relation to the Balkans but with any other key aspect.
The situation of the European Union in respect to Kosovo is however very difficult, since five member states do not recognize Kosovo and it is unlikely that they will do so in the near future. These five member states are, alphabetically: Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia, and Spain. All of them have reasons not to recognize the new state that are mainly internal. The latest news on the matter is that Greece might be the first of these five states to recognize Kosovo, now that its dispute with North Macedonia has ended. Indeed, Greece did not recognize Kosovo so far only for stability reasons in its region, the Balkans. The only possible limitation is now the Cypriot situation. Indeed, Cyprus has close ties with Greece, but the Turkish minority still represents the biggest issue of the island country. Slovakia and Romania have Hungarian minorities at their borders and might be scared by possible independentist movements. Finally, Spain has very well kwon internal problems with autonomism, independentism, and secessionism: mostly, Catalonia and the Basque Country. It is thus difficult to manage to act in a single and clear way at the level of the European Union if member states have such different views on topics of foreign and internal policies.
The European Union is in any case not completely out of the game in the Balkans, as other actions are being taken in these same days. On November 22nd, representative of all EU member states agreed to the liberalization of visas for Kosovar citizens from January 2024, under the impulse of France and Czechia. Moreover, one day later the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the Serbian accession process to the EU: any advance in this direction may now take place only if Serbia is aligned with the EU on sanctions against Russia in the context of the war in Ukraine.
The situation in the Balkans is the first one that the European Union will have to solve if it ever wants to become an actor with real powers in the international arena. Western Balkans are the courtyard of the European Union, and any future expansion in the name of the European integration will have to start from that area. National differences exist and do not have to be overcome, but rather they need to act with only one voice after a process of further integration and creation of a common sovereignty in Brussels. In order to achieve this result, both the European Union and national leaders need to start working in a coordinated way that will eventually lead to a common external policy.
A cura di Francesco Di Nardo